15 Songs to Soundtrack Your Quarterlife Creative Crisis

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Jobs (or the lack thereof). Bills. Personal drama. Existential angst. It’s hard out there for 20-something creative types, struggling to make ends meet and still find enough hours in the day to work on our own personal projects. For the most part, here at Flavorpill, we tend to keep a positive attitude about balancing the stresses of our daily existence with the creative pursuits that make life worth living. But every once in a while, we can’t help but get sucked into the vortex of a mini-quarterlife crisis. And we’re pretty sure we’re not alone. Since music is at once the best catharsis and the best inspiration to get out of our own heads, we’ve compiled a list of 15 songs that feel your pain — including a few that might just help you get back to kicking ass.

The Replacements — “Unsatisfied”

The Replacements may have licensed both the title of “Can’t Hardly Wait” and the song itself to a late-’90s teen movie about graduating high school, but their earlier track,”Unsatisfied,” speaks loudest to a somewhat older crowd. Sounding hoarse and defeated, Paul Westerberg howls a series of loosely connected laments that are all the more resonant for the grasping tones in which they’re uttered. What confused post-collegiate artist-turned-nine-to-fiver hasn’t had some version of thoughts like, “Everything you dream of/ Is right in front of you/ And everything is a lie” or, simply, “I’m so unsatisfied”?

Times New Viking — “Teenagelust!”

“I don’t want to die in the city alone” is the first line of Times New Viking’s “Teenagelust!” — and it’s an especially terrifying one for those of us who moved to a major metropolis as young adults to seek our fortune, only to find ourselves lost in the lonely crowd. The song title does make reference to the teen years, but only as an indirect comparison with a life lived in urban isolation amid the stress of real-life romantic complications. “Songs we listened to talked of teenage lust,” begins the chorus, efficiently evoking the implacable sense of loss that is the byproduct of becoming a functional adult.

Arcade Fire — “Wake Up”

One of the Arcade Fire’s first hits, “Wake Up” is all about losing our pleasant illusions as we get older — and, eventually, most terrifyingly off all, having to face death. “The children don’t grow up/ Our bodies get bigger but our hearts get torn up/ We’re just a million little gods causin’ rain storms, turnin’ every good thing to rust/ I guess we’ll just have to adjust,” Win Butler shouts, with the whole force of his band’s orchestral arrangements behind him, adding an epic quality to an already difficult realization.

Nirvana — “Serve the Servants”

Kurt Cobain was a master of distilling complex feelings into brief images, which may explain why there is sometimes no better encapsulation of the quarterlife crisis than the opening lyrics of In Utero: “Teenage angst has paid off well/ Now I’m bored and old.” How old was he then? Oh, about 26.

Titus Andronicus — “A More Perfect Union”

Although it’s a fool’s errand trying to sum up a complex album like Titus Andronicus’ The Monitor in a sentence, an incredibly basic summary goes something like this: It’s a record that overlays frontman and songwriter Patrick Stickles’ quarterlife aimlessness and angst about being aimless with the fiery rhetoric and gory imagery of the Civil War, tying these two worlds together with urgent guitar licks and self-deprecating, sing-along choruses. Just about any song from The Monitor would work on this list, we’re going with the scorching album opener. “A More Perfect Union” kicks off with an incendiary Abraham Lincoln quote (“As a nation of free men, we will live forever, or die by suicide”) before launching into a moment of extreme self-doubt that will resonate with anyone who’s found himself substituting escape for ambition: “No, I never wanted to change the world, but I’m looking for a new New Jersey/ ‘Cause tramps like us, baby, we were born to die.” As these lyrics suggest, the song will be particularly poignant for those who grew up in the Garden State.

Liz Phair — “Help Me, Mary”

Most of the songs on this list are by dudes — blame it on Peter Pan or a culture that perpetuates the stereotype that men are overgrown babies. But this is undoubtedly one for the ladies. “Help Me, Mary,” one of the best cuts from Liz Phair’s angry-young-woman manifesto, Exile in Guyville, is about living with a bunch of gross, immature guys who make your life miserable. “They play the stereo and drink,” she sings. “They leave suspicious things in the sink/ They make rude remarks about me/ They wonder just how wild I’d be/ As they egg me on and keep me mad/ They play me like a pit bull in a basement and for that/ I lock my door at night/ I keep my mouth shut tight.” And through it all, St. Liz wants nothing more than the strength to survive — and become a big star. So it looks like she got the last laugh there. For those of us with more modest aspirations, there’s an even easier way to solve this particular 20-something dilemma: move out.

of Montreal — “Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse”

Although massive misreading caused many to assume that this was a song about drugs, of Montreal main man Kevin Barnes has often explained that it’s actually about battling your own, God-given brain chemicals. “Chemicals, don’t flatten my mind,” he pleads. “Chemicals, don’t mess me up this time/ I know you bait me way more than you should/ And it’s just like you to hurt me when I’m feeling good.” Sometimes we can’t help being our own worst enemy — in our creative and personal lives — and “Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse” is all about the battles we wage within ourselves.

Pulp — “Monday Morning”

In both his work with Pulp and his solo material, Jarvis Cocker has already had both a great understanding of and a wonderful sense of humor about aging. “Monday Morning” is a prime example of both, featuring such simultaneously empathizing and mocking lines as, “And so you finally left school/ So now what are you going to do?/ Now you’re so grown up/ Yeah you’re oh oh oh oh oh so mature.” Of course, in Cocker’s native England you can always handle that by spending some time on the dole while you consider your options…

Bob Dylan — “Like a Rolling Stone”

Of course, we couldn’t mention “Monday Morning” without including “Like a Rolling Stone” — which is basically the original quarterlife crisis song. Dylan’s biggest ’60s hits are so ubiquitous now that it’s hard to hear them as the revolutionary anthems they once were. And yet, is there anything dated about this image: “You’ve gone to the finest school, all right, Miss Lonely/ But you know you only used to get juiced in it/ No one’s ever taught you how to live out on the street/ And now you’re gonna have get used to it”? So, even if you’ve heard it a thousand times, hit “play” above and really meditate on the sheer freedom and dread Dylan packs into the simple query, “How does it feel?”

Double Dagger — “Vivre Sans Temps Mort”

One of our favorite (and one of the world’s most underrated) bands, Double Dagger recently announced that they’re breaking up after a series of farewell shows next month. Although there isn’t a bad or stupid song in their discography, this is undoubtedly the song we’ll most fondly remember them by. “Vivre Sans Temps Mort” is an epic, confessional track recounting a few vivid moments from a lifelong obsession with mortality. Ultimately, though, it’s about resisting the paralysis paranoia can cause: “When the fire’s burned out and all you’re left with is smoke, smoke, smoke/ Are you gonna bury the past and move on or just stand there and choke?”

Pink Floyd — “Time”

Sure, you’re still young. But suddenly something happens that makes you realize how quickly time is passing, and you nearly have a panic attack contemplating how little you’ve accomplished. Well, Pink Floyd — who gave us the perfect portrait of childhood trauma in The Wall — know just how you feel. “You are young and life is long/ And there is time to kill today,” but “then one day you find/ Ten years have got behind you/ No one told you where to run/ You missed the starting gun.” Thankfully, while “hanging on in quiet desperation” might be “the English way,” there’s nothing better than a reminder that life is short to give you a renewed sense of urgency.

The Faint — “Agenda Suicide”

The drudgery of the white-collar world has been a favorite subject of rockers since the dawn of rock ‘n’ roll, but rarely have we seen a bleaker portrait of life among the cubicles than The Faint’s “Agenda Suicide.” Although the pop-Marxist sentiments are fairly trite — “Agenda suicide/ The drones work hard before they die/ And give up on pretty, little homes” — the song’s dance-punk theatrics make it possible to dance away your workaday woes while shouting about the injustice of it all. Hopefully, The Faint’s worst-case scenario makes your own 9-to-5 sound wonderful by comparison.

Girls — “Lust for Life”

Christopher Owens may have a more troubling back story than most of us, but what young adult can’t relate to the sudden realization that your life is in complete disarray and that all you want to do is just escape it? Owens wishes he had a boyfriend, a father, a beach house, or just a goddamn pizza and a bottle of wine — some means of being carefree, for a few minutes, if not a lifetime. “Instead I’m just crazy” is the punchline, and one that we’ve surely laughed bitterly at more than once, too. But, as is necessary for our emotional health and yours as we approach the end of this mixtape, there is some hope: “Maybe if I really try with all of my heart/ Then I can make a brand new start in love with you.” Hey, maybe!

Blink-182 — “What’s My Age Again?”

Yes, this is a stupid — and vaguely misogynist — song by a ridiculous band. But paying your own damn bills without losing sight of your creative goals can be exhausting, so don’t let anyone shame you out of revisiting the snotty pop-punk of your youth. You have absolutely earned the right to sing along with Blink-182’s frat-dude liberation anthem:”No one should take themselves so seriously/ With many years ahead to fall in line/ Why would you wish that on me? I never wanna act my age/ What’s my age again?” Just, uh, don’t do it too often, or we really will start judging you.

Making Friendz — “Situation”

“Situation” is pure catharsis in the form of a punk-tinged ’60s girl-group throwback. The song calls out just about everything that can be terrible about life as a creative young adult: “I refuse to believe my life’s a waste/ Alcohol just doesn’t help it,” sings Tami Hart, who told the Village Voice that the single came out of a time when she “was feeling very aware of the fact that all I did was drink, and that I was in the same place, watching a lot of my friends get successful, but couldn’t really get out of the slump I put myself in.” Hart’s lyrics also reference post-recession realities: “Now we’re workin’ for free/ Now are we a commodity?” Few acts are as liberating as admitting that your life is an “S-I-T-U-A-T-I-O-N” as you make the best of it by belting out the banging chorus.